Like buses...you wait ages for a game of Cruel Seas and then 2 come along at once! I've had the game since xmas and very diligently painted up my boats but never actually managed to get them on the table. Luckily Mike at the Guildford club offered to put a game on so I was able to play there and then followed this by a second night of boaty-action with my friend Andrew.
In both cases we ended up playing the same 2 scenarios which gave a good chance to test the rules out and try and avoid making the same mistakes twice (spoiler....I failed at this!)
Scenario 1 (which is actually Scenario 2 in the book) is an attack on a merchant ship. In game one I played the British, with the merchant ship and a Vosper and quickly managed to manoeuvre my boat completely out of position, leaving the tanker vulnerable. My opponent was able to set up an torpedo run which managed to hit (not always easy in CS) and then passed the 'dud' test causing a huge amount of damage but not sinking the tanker.
Here one of the flaws in CS came to light...there doesn't seem to be any penalty for heavy damage in terms of speed or manoeuvrability. Rules such as Action Stations introduce a reduction in maximum speed for each hull box lost. My tanker limped on but the enemy S Boot was able to finish it off with gunnery before speeding off into the night.
In the replay of Scenario 1 a week later I still had the tanker but played the Germans this time. This was a much closer affair...the escorting S Boot was able to inflict quite a bit of damage on one of the attacking Vospers and, thanks to some nifty steering with the tanker I was able to avoid being a sitting duck for the other Vosper. It came down to the wire...just as my tanker was about to exit the table the MTB launched 2 torpedoes. the draw of the dice determined that I escaped which was a little unsatisfying but a close run thing.
The Vosper is in a good attack position but too close to the tanker:
the torpedoes need to move a min. of 15cm to arm
|The torpedoes speed towards the fleeing tanker|
Scenario 2. The second game (we managed 2 scenarios in an evening quite comfortably) was no. 4 from the book. An MTB has been damaged and is in the centre of the table, immobile but able to defend itself with limited firepower. Rescue boats are arriving but enemy boats are also speeding in to capture the crew. Both times I played the British rescuers. Given the size of the playing area all boats are into action very quickly. In the first run at this scenario one of my MTBs was hit and received a critical bridge hit...this meant I couldn't change course and I promptly steered at speed straight into an oncoming E Boat, disintegrating in a cloud of plywood and scratching the paintwork on the larger German boat. My other rescuers were under heavy fire and then, to cap it all, the boat we were coming to rescue promptly sank! The E Boats were able to nip in and capture the crew at which point the game ends.
In the second game a week later I was again the British and was determined not to crash this time...
Oops... this time I couldn't even blame a critical dice roll. This crash was down to my poor steering! I didn't sink but again came off worse and was then shot up by the other E Boats.
Another Vosper received a critical hit on a torpedo which set off a torpedo on deck finishing that boat off...
I'd also tried using smoke to screen the damaged boat and the rescuers but this seemed very ineffectual under the CS rules as it only last for 1 or 2 turns
Again the damaged boat sank before I could get close enough to rescue the crew and the survivors in their dinghies were taken on board by the E Boats...probably the safest place to be!
So...what's the verdict on Cruel Seas? I've always been a fan of Action Stations and it's hard not to compare the 2 sets. Cruel Seas definitely wins on the ease of recording speed and damage: the wake markers make it much easier to manage the speeds of multiple boats without having to do lots of record keeping although this is at the price of potentially over-simplifying things. There are lots of gaps in the rules though where things are not addressed or the rules that are there are very simplified...spotting, use of flares and illumination etc. Action Stations definitely wins on this count and I guess there's no reason not to combine elements from both rule sets.
I'd been a bit concerned about the limited playing area. Cruel Seas comes with an A0 size mat (84cm x 1120cm approx.) which instinctively seems too small. Of course there's no reason not to play on a larger table but for these scenarios it was good to try them out as intended. Interestingly in the first evening I found it very limiting while in the second night's games I quite enjoyed the challenge of having to think carefully about manoeuvring in a limited space.
Overall I'd say Action Stations would probably be my rules of choice for a 2 player scenario but if I wanted to play a couple of scenarios in an evening or to have multiple players per side then Cruel Seas is a much speedier, and manageable game